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Two Weeks Later, Eastern Ukraine Still In Russian Control

April 29, 2014

Russian Soldiers in Ukraine

Thanks to a slow and tepid response from Kyiv much of Ukraine’s east remains firmly in Russian hands.

Between April 12 and 13–a weekend–masked gunmen with automatic weapons began seizing precincts and municipal buildings in Slavyansk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Horlivka, Kramatorsk, Mariupol, and Soledar. This week, the town of Kostyantynivka fell to the invaders.

Capturing towns and cities proved effortless for the commandos and proxies assisting them. Their modus involved Russian special forces in sanitized uniforms entering the target building. A mob of civilians follow and improvised road blocks are established using tires and sand bags.

The municipal buildings or precincts are then fortified while the rest of the community is subjected to curfews and de facto martial law. These areas are unsafe for visiting journalists.

It must be noted there is a clear difference between the “green men” and the so-called “separatists” dressed as civilians. The former are Spetsnaz and VDV personnel operating alongside Cossack militiamen. The latter are a motley group of non-locals from Crimea and elsewhere who help populate the narrative of an armed rising against Kyiv.

The online magazine Ukrainian Policy put in the effort to name some of these colorful individuals.

Fighting Back

The reality is few Ukrainians, despite their Russian sympathies, took part in these minor coups. It also brought Russia’s elusive special forces an uncomfortable amount of visibility, more so than in Chechnya or Dagestan or wherever they’ve operated these last 20 years.

The decision to capture Eastern Ukraine was strategic since they span the Kharkiv Oblast, the Luhansk Oblast, and the Donetsk Oblast, which declared its independence from Kyiv and is now the  Donetsk People’s Republic.

These regions form a veritable beach head. Furthermore, the oblasts are connected to Russia via the M04 and M03 highways.

Should a hypothetical ground invasion begin, Russian brigades from Crimea, Rostov, and Belgorod would enter Ukraine unopposed and reach the Dnieper River, perhaps Kyiv, in a matter of days.

The Ukrainian armed forces being in a shambles works to Russia’s advantage.

Last Friday, April 25, however, Ukrainian troops foiled an attack on a Kramatorsk airfield although a parked Mi-8 helicopter and an aging AN-2 biplane were destroyed. A major “anti-terrorist” operation is underway to recapture Slavyansk and there have been casualties on both sides.

It was also in Slavyansk where a bus carrying military observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation In Europe (OSCE) was hijacked and its passengers taken hostage. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) identified four Germans, one Swede, one Pole, and one Czech. Only the Swede, Ingvi Thomas Johanson, was released on the same day the OCSE convene a counter-terrorism summit in Switzerland.

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